Gender equality remains an unfilled promise
“Despite solid evidence demonstrating the centrality of women’s empowerment in reducing poverty, promoting development and addressing the world’s most urgent challenges, gender equality remains an unfulfilled promise,” stated Ms Seynabou Tall, Regional Gender and Gender Based Violence Adviser of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) East and Southern Africa Office during proceedings at the Pan-African Parliament (PAP) in Midrand, South Africa on 12 May. Ms Tall conducted her presentation during what has been declared as the PAP “Day on the Rights of Women” on the theme of the African Union (AU): “2016: African Year of Human Rights with a particular focus on the Rights of Women.”
Ms Tall commended African leaders for the progress that has been made to date in the area of women rights, but she maintained that there is an unfinished agenda. Based on the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) Programme of Action and Beijing reviews, there are strong calls for more action on issues that relate to gender equality, secondary and tertiary education, youth and adolescents and girl child marriages.
She explained that unless efforts to eradicate child marriages are accelerated, in the next decade, 14.2 million girls under 18 years will be married every year, which equates to 39,000 girls per year. Such premature marriages have further negative consequences, such as high child mortality rates, premature births, sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV, cervical cancer and domestic violence. “We have alarming and shocking data that speak better than hundred speeches: Burkina Faso 48%, Sierra Leone 48%, Madagascar 48%, Malawi 50%, Mozambique 52%, Mali 55%, Central African Republic 61%, Guinea 63%, Chad 72% and Niger 75%. I will stop here. It is time to act now,” she pleaded.
Ms Tall further offered a gauge that parliamentarians can use to determine whether their countries are in fact meeting the human rights norms. The normative elements of human rights are availability, accessibility, acceptability and quality. Availability implies that there are sufficient quantity of services throughout the state pertaining to women’s rights to health and life. Accessibility speaks to non-discrimination and the access to economic and physical services and information. Acceptability means that the services that are rendered comply with all medical ethics and are culturally appropriate. Finally, quality addresses compliance of the information and services with scientific and medical standards.
Ms Tall called on each parliamentarian to take accountability for the issue by ensuring implementation of the UNFPA’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR). The UPR is a mechanism that was established by the United Nations (UN) to review whether member states are fulfilling its human rights obligations and commitments. “Much still has to be done, but this cannot be done without Parliament. This is your time, grab it,” she pleaded. She concluded that true gender equality will only be achieved when women enjoy the same opportunities, rights and obligation in all spheres of life.”